A few weeks ago, there was a hint of excitement in the air at Petco Park. Fans were looking ahead to the 2010 season with optimism, that maybe this team just might be able to surprise people next season.
What they quickly found out was this team was still full of youth and still full of inexperience as they lost six of seven to the St. Louis Cardinals in less than a two week timespan. This team isn't ready for the big time....yet.
Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, and Cesar Carrillo were names that a lot of fans were excited about, as they were getting a lot of talk on the San Diego airwaves.
There were high hopes for all three pitchers.
Latos had lost his first start as a Padre, but then won four straight in dominant fashion. Richard had give the Padres quality starts, even looking like a veteran at times, and then there was Carrillo.
The highly-touted draft pick out of the University of Miami was coming off Tommy John surgery and there was some question as to whether his velocity was back to where it needed to be.
Carrillo would answer the velocity questions against Milwaukee but, unfortunately for the Padres, his accuracy and poise weren't there. The right hander was pulled after just two and a third innings, giving up eight runs on just four hits (three of those hits were home runs) in a 12-9 loss.
Though he would fare better in his second start in a 6-3 win over the Chicago Cubs, his third start is what would seal Carrillo's fate and ultimately what sent him packing back to the minor leagues. Carrillo gave up four runs on five hits through just two innings, but the worst of his start was his six walks due to his lack of command with the fastball.
“If you can’t command the fastball, you are in a world of hurt,” Padres manager Bud Black said during his press conference on Friday afternoon.
“Cesar’s velocity is at the major-league level. And his change-up is good. Like he’s said, his curve has been the last pitch to come around from his surgery in 2007. The thing we’ve seen is a struggle with his fastball command and efficiency.”
If you can't command the easiest pitch in a pitcher's repetoire, it's going to make your starts a lot longer and a lot more painful.
As for Latos, the young right hander that came in and dominated his way to a 4-1 record in his first five starts, he's struggled in his last two starts.
After giving up just a combined six earned runs in his four straight wins, Latos has given up 12 earned runs in the last two starts, including giving up seven earned runs in just four innings against the Cardinals on Aug. 14.
So that excitement that a lot of fans had a few weeks ago has probably turned to a little bit of skepticism, and maybe more than a little bit of worry.
But the inexperience of 2009 will breed experience and knowledge when spring training opens next season. The players that have struggled this season will get the opportunity to work hard during the offseason, to hone their game, and to fine-tune their pitches or swings.
Those same players that may have struggled towards the end of the season may show signs of the players the Padres hoped they would be as spring training comes to a close at the end of March.
Though this team will be built on youth like Latos, Carrillo, and Richard, it will also boast veterans like Adrian Gonzalez, Heath Bell, and David Eckstein, who just received a one-year contract extension to remain with the Padres through the 2010 season.
Leadership should and will be a big part of spring training when the team reports to Peoria, Arizona next February.
You'll see this young team come in with a newfound focus and a newfound hunger to show that they don't want to be in dead last like this again. They want to win and they have a little more experience and know how to do it.
They tasted a little bit of it during their small winning streaks throughout the 2009 season, so they'll know what it takes to win those games and they'll know what it takes to win the games they aren't winning this year.
So if you're going to make your way to Peoria to take a look at this team during spring training next year, pay close attention to their focus and determination. You may just find that this team will be better prepared than seasons passed.